A Military, Political and Global History of Armoured Warfare: An Interview with Alaric Searle

Alaric SearleWe recently had the chance to pose a few questions to Dr. Alaric Searle, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Salford Manchester and author of the new book Armoured Warfare: A Military, Political and Global History.  His book is an impressive work, encapsulating over 100 years of AFV history into a single volume of just over 250 pages.  While there are many books that trace the technical development of armored vehicles, this book places the history of the tank within a broader historical perspective, examining its impact in not only the military realm, but also the political and economic.

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How did you become interested in the topic of armored warfare?

While I was an undergraduate studying History at Edinburgh University, I took a course on the Great War in my final year. This led to my discovery of the writings of J.F.C. Fuller, so I then decided to write a final year dissertation on the British Tank Corps in the First World War.

You state in the preface of Armoured Warfare: A Military, Political and Global History that this book was the result of your experience teaching the subject at University. What are some of the biggest challenges in terms of the preconceived ideas or lack of knowledge that students bring to the class room regarding armored warfare?

Possibly the biggest challenge is encouraging the students to move away from old and very dated works, very specifically memoirs such as Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Leader. As I have been researching German military history for around twenty years, I am fully aware of the latest German research. The students cannot usually access this research, so it often takes some persuading to change some of their idealized views of German commanders. The other challenge is to communicate to the students that there were conflicts beyond Europe and that that experience is as interesting and significant as some of the more well-known wars and campaigns. This said, we do have some very good students at Salford, so I am often surprised at how much the students already know.

The book takes a rather broad “global” approach to the subject. Was it a challenge to condense the topic down into a book that was of reasonable length?

There is a simple answer to that question – yes! While it is always possible to condense chapters and text, what I did find was that some explanations became unclear, so I had to return to the manuscript later and clear up some of the lack of precision by adding in more explanation. What was most irritating with the word length was that one or two conflicts simply could not be included. The two most obvious ones are the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40 and the Indo-Pakistan wars. If there is a second edition of the book, then I will definitely include those conflicts.

Were there topics addressed in the book you would like to return to in a later work in more detail?

Oh, yes. I am currently working on an article comparing war elephants and tanks. I delivered an early version of this idea to a seminar at Oxford University last year. The reaction was very positive, so this has encouraged me to expand my talk into a longer article. Some of the ideas I developed in the final chapter on the visual history of the tank I would likewise want to turn into some articles. And, I am working on a full-length monograph re-examining the military theories of Major-General J.F.C. Fuller. So, there is going to be more work on this subject appearing over the next two or three years from my pen.

Typically with books about armor, the cover photo features a Tiger tank or something along those lines. Your book has a rather interesting photo of what looks like a location in Vietnam with some M113 troop carriers and a helicopter taken from the roof of an M48.  Is there a reason for why that particular photo is on the cover? [Read more…]

Book Alert: Genesis, Employment, Aftermath: First World War Tanks and the New Warfare

9781909982222Publisher Helion Company is advertising a new book on WW1 armor slated for a June release.  Titled “Genesis, Employment, Aftermath: First World War Tanks and the New Warfare, 1900-1945“, this book is authored by Alaric Searle and is part of the Modern Military History series from Helion.  Oddly, the Amazon listing for this book has a price of $79.95 while the Helion page shows a more reasonable price of $41.76.  The book is 224 pages with four maps and eight pages of black and white photos. From what information is available, this appears to be the first book by Dr. Searle specifically on tanks and armored vehicle history.

Publisher’s Description:

The employment of the first tanks by the British Army on the Western Front in September 1916, although symbolic rather than decisive in its effects, ushered in a new form of warfare – tank warfare. While much has been written on the history of the tank, this volume brings together a collection of essays which uncover new aspects of the history of these early machines. Leading military historians from Britain, France and Germany offer insights into the emergence of the tank before the First World War, during the conflict, as well as what happened to them after the guns fell silent on the Western Front. Based on painstaking research in archives across Europe, each of the chapters sheds new light on different aspects of the history of First World tanks. Two chapters consider why the Germans failed to recognize the possibilities of the tank and why they were so slow to develop their own machines after the first British tank attack in 1916. Two other chapters chart the history of French tanks on the Western Front and after the end of the war. Tank communication, the employment of British tanks on the Western Front, as well as the activities of British Tank Corps intelligence, are also explained. The use of British tanks in Palestine and in the Russian Civil War is examined in detail for the first time. The volume also reflects on the impact of the Battle of Cambrai, both in terms of its psychological impact in Britain and the power it exerted over military debates until the end of the Second World War. The aim of the book is to reconsider the history of First World War tanks by widening the historical perspective beyond Britain, to include France and Germany, and by reflecting on the pre-1914 and post-1918 history of the these new weapons of war.